Whether you’re a hobbyist or professional videographer, live shoots can make the heart beat faster, palms get sweatier, and the mind go mad. Relief in the pressure requires belief in preparation.
Be it niece Mary’s wedding, Johnny’s first Little League game, or the live seminar you’ve been hired to videotape, you had better get it right the first time.
No chance of yelling “Cut’ Let’s shoot that scene over” at Mary’s nuptials; no chance of holding up the seminar because you forgot the mike cord. Second chances are non-existent.
Equally important is the fact that you take your craft seriously and your reputation depends on it. That’s pressure!
Murphy’s infamous Law applies equally tovideographers. Simply stated: If something can go wrong at your once-in-a-lifetime taping, it will.
Most of the many ways to botch a live shoot fall into the “operator error” category. If it has never happened to you, you are either lucky, can compute the cube root of 416 in your head, or have never taped anything important.
Speaking from painful experience, I can attribute the majority of live taping disasters to the fact that I was ill-prepared for the task at hand.
I either forgot a necessary piece of equipment, failed to check its operation, or failed to think through the event sufficiently prior to taping.
In an attempt to reduce my frequency as a Murphy’s Law statistic and save my reputation, I found it necessary to eliminate or reduce some of the stress associated with these perilous situations.
Quite simply, I have become-and recommend that other videomakers become-a born-again Boy Scout by heeding the solemn oath, “Be Prepared.”
Who’s Who of Videomaking
Before you get into the specifics of live shoot preparation, it’s important to stop for a moment and take a hard look at yourself. You are about to be asked or hired to take responsibility for irreplaceable videomaking. Before committing yourself, you must answer the following questions objectively:
“Do I have the expertise and capability to accomplish this video project to the satisfaction of my client? Is my equipment of such calibre to provide the quality expected?”
It is imperative to be critically honest with yourself and your client. Each ofus has a level of videomaking expertise; if you are not on the level that your friend or client assumes, you run a great risk attempting to pull it off.
A once-in-a-lifetime event is not the time to check out a new piece of gear or experiment with a different shooting technique. Don’t even think about it! You’ll do a great disservice to your client, the business, and yourself. Gain the experience on your own time and you will be greatly respected.
Plan On a Plan
A methodical pre-taping game plan separates the upcoming video project into its key phases-preproduction, production, and post production-and analyzes each step within.
By thinking through and planning for each phaseprior to the event, you reduce the odds of a foul-up.
The first phase, preproduction, may be the least exciting, but it’s by far the most crucial; inadequate attention here will end in disaster.
The first step in this phase is to have a face-to-face meeting with the person who wants us to tape the event. It is absolutely critical that we understand exactly what needs to be taped.
“Please tape my daughter’s wedding” is not good enough; we need to know specifics.
Which part or parts of the ceremony are to be covered? What are the most important shots? We may not think it vital to capture little Freddy bearing gold ring on satin pillow-but the bride’s mother does! We need to know that.
Go through each step or aspect of the event with the client or organizer to ensure that you won’t miss capturing anything. Take notes for later review.
The next thing to straighten out with your client is the location and/or equipment limitations. If the client wants you to get closeups of the bride as she speaks her vows but the minister won’t let you within 200 feet of the altar, then you may have a problem.
Taping seminars or presentations can pose other limitations. For example, unless you are planning a two- (or more) camera shoot, you may have a tough time taping viewer questions or spontaneous audience reactions. Don’t promise something you or your equipment can’t deliver.
The initial preproduction meeting is a good time to discuss what’s expected of the finished product. Does the client or organizer want raw footage only, an edited version, or both? How long will the final edited version be?
Answers to these questions will determine how you should cover the event.
After you are certain you and the client understand what’s expected, it makes good sense to walk through the shoot on location and at a time close to the actual time of the event.
Scope out location limitations and get a feel for what’s in store for you on the big day.
Walking through the shoot with packing checklists serves two purposes: You can identify what equipment you’ll need, and you are forced to think in terms of equipment and location limitations.
The lighting checklist requires me to devote attention to such variables as available vs. artificial light, or portable vs. stand-propped lights.
Also, look for uniqueness: sunlight streaming through stained-glass windows, probable shadows on the key participants, high-contrast areas destined to wash out the picture.
The audio checklist zeros in on sound requirements.
Will the camera mike pick up the speaker? What about the background or ambient sound? Will echoes, wind, and/or traffic noises be a problem? Are additional mikes needed? Where?
Think also in terms of shooting position. What is the best location to set up in terms of coverage, mobility, and electrical requirements?
Remember, you may encounter a crowd or several participants blocking your view and/or tripping over your cords (heaven forbid).
Can you be portable, or will a tripod be required? What shots-angles, positions, and camera moves-will best capture the key aspects of the event? Anything obstructing your shot?
Once you have identified what equipment you need to satisfy the requirements of the videotaping you have planned, you must make sure it’s ready for the job.
Be thorough. Better to catch a frayed cable or discharged battery now than halfway through the live event.
What about spares-batteries, light bulbs, extra cables and connectors? And for goodness sake, avoid the videomaker’s ultimate faux pas: Pack enough tape-and more-to cover the event.
Use your checklist to meticulously check off and pack each item of equipment. Remember, Murphy is waiting for you to forget your AC power supply!
Make a Production Out of It
On the day of the event, arrive early. How early depends on your experience, amount of equipment required, and how well you checked out the shooting environment during preproduction.
Remember that guests and participants also arrive early and invariably interfere with your setup. Plan for this. If you know it will take you art hour to set up, arrive two hours early: expect something to go awry.
Don’t forget to test your video and audio signals. If you can use a monitor to check lighting, color correctness, and saturation, so much the better. Always use an earphone to monitor audio level and quality.
As for the actual execution of your once-in-a-Lifetime taping, don’t change your preproduction “shooting script” unless you’re forced to, or unless you see a way to improve a shot on the spot.
If you’ve done your homework and adequately prepared for the live-event taping, then your post-production or editing phase should be fairly straightforward.
Regardless, it’s a good idea to have the organizer or client review the raw footage with you. Working as a team, you jointly can decide what looks good, what doesn’t, what to keep, what to cut
–before you put too much effort into the editing.
A similar consultation should apply to music beds, voiceovers, and graphics/titling to be incorporated in the edited version.
Saving the Day
To some, all this effort may seem unnecessary. After all, you’re not preparing for a Shuttle launch are you?
Think of it this way: We use our video equipment to record fleeting moments-special, precious events never to be duplicated. Are they worth missing because we were poorly prepared?
So the next time you get an opportunity to tape a once-in-a-lifetime event, work out and follow through on a good game plan. Cover all the steps in each of the three phases and leave nothing to chance. One “save” will more than make up for the effort.
John Kelly is an independent producer and president of Cape Fear Teleproductions, makers of promotional and training videos in the Southeast.